Many Saints of Newark offers a Scorsean prologue to the cult series The Sopranos, in theaters November 3. We decipher the phenomenon with the creator David Chase and his team, in particular Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James.
Before being a crime legend, Tony Soprano studied with his uncle, Dickie Moltisanti. In an explosive context of gang warfare, this intractable godfather opened the doors of the Mafia to his nephew. Many Saints of Newark, prequel to the Sopranos, therefore focuses on Tony’s mentor, the one who inspired him to become the leader we have known in the series.
This tutelary figure, the main character of the film, is played by Alessandro Nivola, who was immediately seduced by this charismatic man who hides a dark and very violent part.
“The first thing that struck me about Dickie when I read the script is that unlike other gangster characters, he only commits violent crimes under the sway of passion, d ‘an impulse of the moment. He does not plan his crimes. It comes from a momentary impulse of rage. It is an emotional response to someone who betrays him and who means a lot to him “, explains the actor.
“He’s not a calculating and obsessive killer. He puts on nice costumes and pretends all is well but he’s a character going through a real moral crisis. He keeps everything to himself, so he has this inner rage. that he sometimes can no longer control. We understand in the film that his father (Ray Liotta) was violent towards him during his childhood, that can partly explain his personality. He will gradually understand that he is the architect of its own destruction “, analyzes the actor.
For his part, director Alan Taylor is very curious about how viewers will receive the film. “I’ve only seen it once in the presence of an audience and I’m still seeing how it goes. There is, without a doubt, a kind of darkness to this movie and I think that it comes mostly from David Chase’s perspective on these things. It struck me at one point: the movie begins in a graveyard, it’s narrated by a deceased character, and it ends with a funeral. to be in a bubble of darkness “, indicates the director.
There is a lot of humor, nonsense, affection and broken hearts but it is all shrouded in darkness.
“That being said, there is a lot of humor, nonsense, affection and broken hearts but it is all shrouded in darkness. I would hate to think that there is only darkness, I think there’s a lot more going on besides that. And in a way, The Sopranos also had a very dark view of humanity and America, but lit by action. and comedy and so on. So I tried to balance those two sides. “, says Alan Taylor.
Creator David Chase evokes this “darkness” by comparing the events of 1967 depicted in the film with the world today. “There is a parallel between the plot which is set in 1967 and everything that we have lived with in particular Black Lives Matter and George Floyd. We did not include that in a conscious way with my co-writer Lawrence Konner. It shows that things haven’t changed that much in several decades “, analyzes the creator of the Sopranos and screenwriter of the film.
Obviously, to play Tony Soprano as a teenager, you had to find an actor with the stature to take on such a responsibility, especially since the death of James Gandolfini in 2013. Finally, it was his son, Michael, who took up the torch.
“I felt on another planet when I found out I had the part. I auditioned over a 3 month period so I spent a lot of time with the accent, the physicality and the emotions of the As a result, when I got the role, I had already worked a lot on it, so the hesitation or the fear I had when I was offered the casting, I had already evacuated them. was just something I feared.
On the other hand, obviously, when I was told, I was ecstatic. I have to say what really turned me on was when I learned the names of all the actors who were going to be in the movie. That upset me, the fact that I was going to work with Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, Leslie Odom Jr, Alessandro Nivola. I was so blown away by this idea and the idea of working with David Chase. It was a very surreal feeling but also very exciting “, says Michael Gandolfini.
It was not easy for him, he had to take it upon himself to take on the role.
As for the creator of the Sopranos, he was delighted that James’ son got the role of Tony. “His performance is excellent. It was not easy for him, he had to take a lot on himself to take on the role. But for me, I did not see him as the son of James Gandolfini, it was just right. the right actor for this precise role; Tony was not at all the same because the times are different and he is not yet the character we know in the series “, says David Chase.
For Michael, growing up alongside the one who played Tony hasn’t really been of much help in getting into character. “I wouldn’t say growing up with him helped me get a better handle on Tony. Obviously the show has helped me tremendously. It has allowed me to know his manners, his postures, put his gaze and hold my head. in a specific way. But also my body language, and the accent “, explains the young actor.
“But what helped me the most was that I had roughly 86 hours of shrink sessions with the character I was going to play. I really managed to understand all aspects of that character but also how Tony thinks and what makes him react. However, this role didn’t really teach me anything about my dad and my dad didn’t teach me anything about Tony. Because my dad wasn’t Tony. are different people “, he concludes.
Director Alan Taylor looks back on the audition process for the role of young Tony, which was absolutely not certain for Michael Gandolfini. The filmmaker and his team started by organizing a big casting to try and find someone who could play the role, but Michael has always been a possibility for the director. The latter could not choose him without having him audition because he had to know if he was really capable, in the interest of the film but also in his own.
Michael Gandolfini learned facial expressions from his father, he even used a chipped tooth to look like him.
“We didn’t want to put him in an embarrassing situation where we asked too much of him. He came, passed the casting and he was great. He just made it very clear that he wanted to do it, that it was. was right for him to do it, and he felt good about it. So it was one of the few decisions that ever confused me, it seemed like the right thing to do. joy to direct it, he worked very hard. He did his own job, he watched the whole series for the first time. He learned his dad’s facial expressions, he even used a chipped tooth to look like him “, says the director.
Ray Liotta, seasoned actor, legendary Henry Hill of the Goodfellas, plays Hollywood Dick Moltisanti, father of Dickie. Despite his star status, he was not guaranteed to get the part. He did not hesitate to do the forcing with David Chase to be part of Many Saint of Newark.
“I really wanted to work with David Chase, it hadn’t worked the time before on The Sopranos. It wasn’t won, I had to go to New York to meet him, and I live in Los Angeles. I asked my agent if he could arrange a meeting with him for a role in the movie. He didn’t promise me anything by agreeing to the meeting, I just wanted to sit facing Chase and director Alan Taylor and To offer them my services. Luckily, we had a great time, we had lunch together, and at the end, they asked me if I wanted to play Hollywood Dick Moltisanti “, reveals the actor.
The world of criminals arouses a strange fascination in the viewer. For filmmaker Alan Taylor, gangster stories like The Sopranos have a lot of attributes that are very appealing but mostly about its themes that are. “I grew up with this show that taught me to love this way of making films where the theme is the most important. And the themes of the series were the big questions that David Chase asks but which he refuses to give answers. These themes are eternal but also specific, like the decline of the American empire “ he analyzes.
Above all, these issues are above all universal, according to the director: “There is something wrong with the world; we are not sure why there is something wrong with us and we do not know how to change it, do we have the power to to do something about it, to readjust? That’s the American myth, I’m not sure I believe it. All these haunting questions, mixed in with Buddhism and other things, are the questions in the series that I will find it eternally interesting. When paired with the old-fashioned gangster world, violence and humor, it’s a good combination. “, explains the director.
Seeing violence on the screen creates a certain fascination in people.
For Ray Liotta, people are fascinated by bad guys because they do things you could never do. “We like to watch them do it on TV because it entertains us. I’ve never fought in my life so seeing violence on the screen creates a certain fascination in people. Anyway, it works for me, it works for me. really intrigues me “, he confides.
“With The Sopranos you get into American gangster mythology but you have to distinguish it from all the other versions, including those of Scorsese, which are very powerful. Having Ray Liotta brought in a lot of that mythology and I was very excited. by the fact that we chose it but in a Soprano role. There’s something a little weird about the way you use it in the movie. It’s a little surreal but I think that we have successfully incorporated it into the world of the Sopranos “, says Alan Taylor.
According to Michael Gandolfini, many people can relate to the characters in the film because “the themes are isolation, feelings of alienation and loneliness, trying to be a part of something great, important and wanting to be a good member of the family. The family on the show and in the movie it’s the mafia but also the blood family. So these are universal things that everyone can relate to. Viewers can somehow see themselves as Tony. But also as Dickie and Harold. . And this is incredible proof of David Chase’s ability to write characters and the human experience. “, underlines the actor.
To conclude, Alessandro Nivola confesses to never having seen The Sopranos before auditioning for the role of Dickie.
“I was of course aware of the whole aura of the series and the enthusiasm it generated, especially for its magnificent anti-hero characters. In addition, the series showed that television can provide things worthy of the cinema; before The Sopranos, the world of the big screen and that of the small one were very separate, a film actor rarely went to television and vice versa. The series was a game-changer and brought the two closer together universe, TV has ceased to be my sight and snubbed. Today, you no longer see the line between the two and I think that’s partly thanks to David Chase. “, says Dickie’s interpreter.
Interview by Emmanuel Itier in Los Angeles.